Sophomore Slump (busters): QB Edition
January 15, 2013 | John Kerwin
The sophomore wall has many casualties, and knows no boundaries. Whether you are slinging the rock, carrying it, blocking for it, catching it, chasing it, or deflecting it; stats define you. I am however, going to limit this list of potential victims to our star-studded offensive skill players of 2012, who broke out as imperative playmakers for their respective teams. Part One of this “dual-threat” article will feature the rookie, three-headed, quarterback monster.
It is only fitting to begin with the first overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft: Andrew Luck. With shoes to fill of the likes not too many have ever even imagined; Luck was brought into the Colts organization to start off where the great Peyton Manning’s legend departed. Inheriting an abysmal 2-14 team from the season prior, the kid from Stanford had a lot more to worry about than your average rookie. Without a solid running game, a porous defense, and one aging star to accommodate him, Andrew Luck was able to take the NFL by storm and lead an Indianapolis team to an astonishing 11-5 record. Without a workhorse in the backfield, Luck was forced to strap this team to his back, and carried them as far as his rookie arm and legs would permit. Posting rookie records of 627 passing attempts, and 4,374 yards; somewhat attributed to the one dimensional style of offense he was forced to command. His 23 touchdowns were middle of the pack, 54.1 completion percentage 2nd to last (minimum 14 games), and 18 interceptions (tied with Mark Sanchez), were nothing to boast about. However, the 7 games won on late drives (3 under final minute), and 5 additional touchdowns on 255 yards rushing were notable. It is easy to argue Luck will have a tough time equaling or exceeding his passing output if the Colts can develop any kind of balance within their offensive scheme next season. With his poise, intelligence, and special skill set though, I do see him limiting the mistakes, and adding to his less than stellar completion and touchdown marks. The emergence of fellow rookies Vick Ballard and T.Y. Hilton should only help in aiding Luck build on his 2012 season. The Colts team he joined this season couldn’t have laid more on his individual shoulders, and he shined. As the son of a former professional quarterback, I don’t see Andrew Luck having any problem continuing his success in the NFL. This kid is too wise beyond his years to fall victim from lack of development. His work ethic and high football I.Q. will leave him no less capable in 2013.
Coming out of college, this Baylor Heisman Trophy winner had to contend with the criticism of being able to translate his run n’ gun skills to the NFL game. It didn’t take long to realize it would be a “walk across FedEx Field” for the talented RG3. We all knew he could run, and saw his arm strength in college, but the amount of consistency and accuracy he brought to Washington was sensational. His 20 touchdowns, and 3,211 passing yards were nothing to brag about, but the 65.7 completion percentage, and 5 interceptions were something to take pride in. Toss in his QB rookie record of 833 rushing yards, 7 more touchdowns, and you have a very special player. RG3’s Washington rookie record for completions, perfect passer rating in Week 11 against PHI, and being selected as the only non-specialist rookie to the Pro Bowl were only a few of the accolades he was able to compile during his rookie tenure. Aside from the fact he only had 1 rushing touchdown in his final 9 games, there is one major factor that will contribute to a sophomore slump: injury. RG3 initially “sprained” his right LCL December 9th against Baltimore. He not only came back into that game for a short stint, but he only missed one game after that. He returned as a shell of himself for the remainder of the season, and eventually re-injured himself in the Redskins playoff loss to Seattle. He was forced to undergo surgery for torn ligaments in his right knee for the second time in less than four years. With the crucial rehab time needed, and the fact there is concern over permanent cartilage damage, we don’t know when or if RG3 will return to his rare form of explosiveness. I find it nearly impossible to assume he will be able to add to his spectacular rushing stats next season, but if RG3 is able to overcome the adversity of this devastating injury, he may still be able to be a very effective passer in 2013. Given his elusiveness only helps his QB abilities; RG3 is still a very impressive pocket passer. With his strong arm, and ridiculous long ball accuracy he may need to rely more heavily on those pocket skills if healthy next season. Of everyone on this list I was least worried about a sophomore slump with his special talent, but it is very difficult to envision RG3 exceeding his rookie production come 2013 in the wake of his major knee issue. Amid the aftermath of the machine we call All Day; expectations are almost insurmountable for this young man. His dedication and love for the game is unquestioned, but an undaunted comeback seems surreal.
The least expected breakout rookie quarterback of 2012, Russell Wilson. This Wisconsin standout didn’t quite measure up when standing tall. Not the first to be doubted because of his height, RW3’s skill set, and quarterback capabilities were overlooked due to his sub-6 foot frame. Unlike his two rookie counterparts above, RW3 wasn’t drafted as the immediate starter for the Seattle Seahawks. It didn’t take long to beat out Matt Flynn before the regular season even started though; because of his exceptional preseason performances. This 3rd round draft pick not only exceeded all expectations, but managed to tie Peyton Manning’s rookie record of 26 passing touchdowns while leading the Seahawks all the way to the Divisional round of the playoffs. A respectable 3,118 passing yards, 64.1 completion percentage, and 10 interceptions are only numbers compared to his on-field progression throughout the season. We watched this rookie phenom go from a solid game manager, to a lethal dual-threat in a single season. Although he was a very accurate passer who never really had a consistent receiving option most of the year, he was unable to eclipse the 300 yard mark in any game except his season ending performance. With Marshawn Lynch lining up in the backfield, and the tenacious defense that solidified his team, you don’t necessarily have to put up Drew Brees’ numbers for that offense to succeed. His added 489 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns speak wonders of his dual capabilities. Leading the youngest team in the NFL, this organization and this player should do nothing but progress and excel for years to come. Apart from his passing touchdowns, there were no unattainable stats that RW3 won’t be able to accomplish come 2013. Having a playoff win and experience under his belt will only help transition his progression. Barring any injuries, or major shake-ups to his fellow teammates, this kid shouldn’t disappoint. With his work ethic, skill set, and supporting cast; I fully expect Russell Wilson to hit the ground running and be completely oblivious to a sophomore slump next season.
These 3 Quarterbacks looked far from rookies this past season, and I’m looking forward to seeing this unprecedented class of star dual-threats next year. The hybrid style of quarterback is slowly beginning to take over the position. It has become very difficult to compare players side by side with unusual skill sets in so many areas of their game. We may not be able to predict the future, but one thing is for sure; we can definitely look forward to it.
Keep an eye out for the 2nd part of this article which will cover the elite running back class that has taken the league by storm.